Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it can make great car accessories. At least that’s what researchers at the Plastics Research Group at Ford Motor Company were thinking when they started investigating the use of recycled dollar bills as a natural fiber replacement in nonstructural automotive applications. Ford is beginning their exploration by developing money-reinforced composite coin trays to help reduce the amount of shredded U.S. dollar bills in local landfills.
According to Deborah Mielewski, technology leader of the Plastics Research Group at Ford, her team first started working with a small bag of shredded dollar bills as a joke. News of the notorious tongue-and-cheek research project quickly circulated the company. “We made key chains out of it,” says Mielewski. “Afterwards there was strong interest from management to start utilizing the recycled money material in future car designs. So, we scaled up and started investigating part molding and testing.”
U.S. cash-reinforcement is successful for nonstructural composite parts because recycled dollar bills are much stronger than ordinary paper products. Dollar bills are composed of a special cotton paper that is one-fourth linen and three-fourths cotton with a mix of tiny synthetic proprietary red and blue fibers. This special recipe helps lengthen the average circulation time of the bill and reduce counterfeiting. When bills are considered unusable they are removed from circulation, shredded at Federal Reserve cash facilities and packaged into shrink-wrapped bags of long-fiber cotton material.
Old money hits the Ford research team
Mielewski’s research team has been working with shredded currency for approximately one year. The money is delivered to the Ford laboratory in bags of shredded ribbons donated by local banks. When the plastics research team was asked to research the new material, it did some preliminary research and started designing a coin tray. They chose coin trays because there are minimal structural requirements making it an easy part to design and become familiar with new materials.
“The coin tray is our favorite use for the material because it’s a small part, so we wouldn’t have to worry about volume for the first application. Well, that and the fact that it’s cute. You can put money into a part made of money,” says Mielewski. “We are also looking at other applications such as door trim and ducts.”